Debt from the juvenile justice system

Youth Justice | 12/10/2021

Carolina Figueroa
Bilingual Organizer

My family’s lifelong debt from the juvenile justice system 

I believe the costs and fees in our youth justice system are wrong because I know how they can gravely impact Indiana families like mine.   

My brother, Renzo, had his first encounter with the juvenile system at age 14. I remember this day so vividly—we were playing basketball. Another kid was bullying our group. The bully had done this many times in the past, despite my older brother asking him to stop. My brother ended up being so upset this day because the boy would not leave us alone. So, he punched him. It knocked a few of the other child’s teeth out. All of us were scared and ran. My brother had not hit someone like this before and did not think one punch would cause the damage it did.   

The police came to our door right away and arrested my brother. I believe he was in juvenile detention for a few days. After court, he had mandatory anger management – which was costly. There was also community service, court fees and lawyer fees. This cost my family two to three thousand dollars. This number doesn’t include restitution – the medical fees for the other boy.   

My hardworking parents lived paycheck to paycheck and this kind of money was not laying around. This debt meant asking all our family for loans so that we could continue to get by. It meant some bills not getting paid on time.  

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Sadly, this incident was the beginning for my brother. From there on out, my brother was unable to get out of the system.   

At age 16, he was sent to juvenile again for breaking a restraining order. The restraining order came about because he was 16 and madly in love with a 15-year-old girl. Her parents did not want them to be together. There was never any violence or anything like that. They both broke this order time and time again – as teens in love will do.   

He was sent to juvenile around 10 times due to that restraining order. It resulted in my parents having around $10,000 in additional debt. This was no longer something we could ask family for. My parents had to borrow against our home to help this time. I felt stressed and pressured to get a job, but my family wanted me to focus on school instead.  

My brother’s first encounter with law enforcement was nearly 18 years ago. My parents recently asked me to help them sort out their finances and I noticed that they are still paying this loan. Even when a balance is fully paid for a child in the system, years later it can still be impacting that family.  

My parents only paid interest on the loans they had to take out all those years ago because they couldn’t afford to pay more. My parents are now older and can’t work like they used to. My mom is sick and they are still strapped with this unaffordable loan.   

As an adult, I do my best to help financially support them. Today, I am a mother of two amazing boys aged 14 and 12. I have told my boys to never fight because I see how one mistake can lead to staying in the system and to unimaginable debt. I know firsthand that it only takes one fight, one time, to turn into a lifelong disaster – mostly due to the costs of juvenile justice system.   

It shouldn’t be this way. The worst things my brother did in his life were to punch a kid and to fall in love. He was put in the system time and time again and my parents went into a lifelong debt because of that.   

The legislative session is just around the corner. My hope is that a bill passes that ends the costs and fees for juvenile prosecution. Debt can negatively impact families for life, span generations and doesn’t help children or their families get the supports they need during such trying times. If you agree, please sign this petition today.  

CREATING A BETTER YOUTH JUSTICE SYSTEM TAKES ALL OF US: SIGN THIS 

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